What I’ve Learned: Cheryl Henry ’04MBA

The new president and CEO of Ruth’s Hospitality Group—owner of Ruth’s Chris Steak House—believes food is the key ingredient in connecting friends and family.

The next time you bite into a succulent, signature filet at Ruth’s Chris Steak House, raise a toast to the Tar who supervises “the sizzle.”

In June 2018, Cheryl Henry ’04MBA was named president and CEO of Ruth’s Hospitality Group, replacing mentor and fellow Rollins grad Michael O’Donnell ’78, who groomed her for the position and now serves as the company’s executive chairman.

During her 12-plus years at Ruth’s Chris, Henry has held a range of leadership positions—COO, CMO, and chief business development officer—and played a role in virtually every operational aspect of the company. Prior to that, she was chief of staff for the mayor of Orlando.

Henry is continually inspired and guided by the hard work and moxie of Ruth Fertel, who founded Ruth’s Chris Steak House at a time when it was uncommon to find a woman at the helm of a restaurant.

We recently caught up with Henry—who oversees operations for 157 restaurants worldwide—to talk about the lessons she learned at Rollins and how a degree from the Crummer Graduate School of Business built a foundation for success in the fine-dining industry.

Crummer was a great option for me personally because it provided the flexibility I needed to continue to do my job while pursuing advanced education.

The curriculum placed an emphasis on areas like finance, which I found especially helpful. Additionally, the increased exposure to many aspects of business, together with an emphasis on group projects, has helped me throughout my career.

I was particularly influenced by the Introduction to Six Sigma course. Its techniques and tools for process improvement have proven to be hugely helpful in our ongoing pursuit of excellence in both product quality and customer service.

The professors at Crummer are some of the brightest minds in business. [Marketing and strategy professor] Greg Marshall is a brilliant brand strategist, and I always enjoyed working with him—so much so that I hired him to consult with Ruth’s Hospitality Group.

What I discovered during my time at Rollins was the common thread of a constant thirst for knowledge and pursuit of success among students.

Whenever I found that I needed a moment of solitude, the Knowles Chapel provided a respite. The chapel is also where I had my daughter Liv baptized, so it will always be a special place for me.

Growing up in an Italian-American family essentially guarantees an appreciation for food. My grandmother, Vita Antoinette Saveria Popuolo, was born in Italy and was a passionate cook. She instilled in me my appreciation for food and drove the importance of food as a connector of family and friends.

My role at Ruth’s is one that has allowed me to deepen that appreciation because at Ruth’s we’re in the business of making memories, of bringing friends and loved ones together in a warm, welcoming environment that feels and treats you like family.

In the future, I believe the role of restaurants will become even more important as they serve as places for people to meaningfully connect—like Rollins students and alumni. Rollins has an amazing alumni network, and I would recommend any incoming student to take advantage of this invaluable resource.

Michael O’Donnell ’78 paved the way for our long-term success by codifying the mission and values that our founder, Ruth Fertel, set forth. We have a document that outlines these concepts called The Sizzle, which unites our organization and helps inspire us. Mike understood the importance of a relentless focus on operational excellence in order to deliver the best steakhouse experience for our guests.

Photo by Scott Cook Photo by Scott Cook

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